By He Jun*
With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Western countries have imposed all-rounded sanctions on Russia. This, in turn, has had an impact on the global economic, trade, and financial systems, raising concerns in the market and academic circles about the adjustment of the global financial system. One of the main issues being debated is the status of the U.S. dollar.
Gita Gopinath, First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that financial sanctions against Russia by the West could gradually weaken the U.S. dollar’s role in the world, leading to further fragmentation of the international monetary system. Analysts such as Goldman Sachs economist Cristina Tessari said the actions of the United States and its allies to freeze Russia’s central bank’s foreign exchange reserves have sparked fears that countries may begin to ditch the dollar due to concerns about the power that the United States could muster thanks to the dominance of the currency.
Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard University economics professor, said in an interview with Bloomberg that the dominance of the dollar could end within 20 years. The reason is that the U.S. and its allies have launched sanctions due to the Russia-Ukraine war, restricting Russia’s access to the dollar-dominated global financial system. This “weaponization of the dollar” will instead stimulate the acceleration of alternative solutions. Rogoff believes that the U.S. blockade or freezing of the foreign exchange reserves of the Russian central bank is undoubtedly a historic development. The preeminence of financial sanctions on Russia by the U.S.-led Western world could accelerate changes in the international financial system to compete with the U.S. dollar. While this certainly would not happen overnight, what could have taken 50 years may now only take 20 years to realize, said Rogoff.
This narrative appears to be supported by data changes in the dollar’s position in global markets. According to the IMF’s most recent Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) data, the American currency’s global dollar-denominated foreign exchange reserves were USD 7,087 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021, with a market share of 59.15% in the third quarter, which had dropped to 58.81%. The dollar’s share of the global reserve currency was as high as 72% around the turn of the century. According to SWIFT’s worldwide payment data, the payment share of the U.S. dollar has declined to 38.85% in 2022.
Is the outlook for the dollar’s prospect as pessimistic as these academics and institutions predict?
ANBOUND’s founder Chan Kung holds the exact opposite view. He believes that if the global situation continues with the current development trend, the U.S. dollar will stand out in the world. If there are no exchange rate swings caused by inflation or emergency, the U.S. dollar will be in a unique position when compared to the world’s major currencies.
This begs the question, why would the future of the U.S. currency be diametrically opposed to what many feels is happening while a significant game-changing geopolitical event, especially the conflict in Ukraine, is ongoing?
The difference lies mainly in the variety of opinions on the impact of the geopolitical event of the war in Ukraine. Professor Rogoff believes that the dollar has been reduced in terms of market scale, and new currency substitutes will emerge, thereby weakening the dollar’s status. However, Chan Kung believes that the alternatives to the U.S. dollar cannot succeed, because the market of these alternatives is weak, while their social economy is turbulent, and some are even still in war zones. For these reasons, the U.S. dollar will remain strong, even becoming the sole stable international currency in circulation. All in all, geopolitical factors play an important role in global currencies, and the dollar will be supported by it.
Chan Kung noted in his article Bracing the Era of Economic Shortage, that during a period of economic uncertainty, the Anglo-American axis countries might be safer havens in the face of geopolitical turbulence. He believes that once the geopolitical war in Europe is resolved, the maritime countries and economy of the American continent would re-emerge. From the perspective of the world’s spatial pattern, conflicts and competitions are most intense in the continental region of the world, that is, the continental region where Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Central Asia, China and India are located. It would be difficult to establish buffer zones between them, hence there are direct collisions with each other. Conflicts and competitions are unavoidable and often have existed since time immemorial. The deep mutual hostility has long been recorded in the chapters of history, and the only thing lacking is often a reason for the actual friction to take place in reality.
In contrast, the geographical location of the Anglo-American axis is in the middle of the ocean. The Atlantic and Pacific routes connect the American continent and a large number of island countries and regions of different sizes, and there are often oceanic divisions between them. Historically and relatively speaking lesser enmities exist between these parts of the world, and they are mutually dependent in trade relations. Therefore, while the continental regions are experiencing violent upheaval, the Anglo-American axis, the maritime states, and the Americas have more prominent opportunities for development and enjoy greater prosperity than before.
*He Jun, Partner, Director of China Macro-Economic Research Team and Senior Researcher. His research field covers China’s macro-economy, energy industry and public policy.